The Buffalo Sabres are experiencing a bump in what has been to this point a nearly flawless season. They'll try to get back on track Monday when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team they've had success against - especially at home.
The Sabres (16-3-1) won 15 of their first 17 games of the season, but have since dropped two of their last three. Both defeats came to the Ottawa Senators, including a 4-1 loss on Saturday - their first road setback this season.
Buffalo, which set an NHL record by opening the season 10-0 away from home, got on the board first with a goal by Maxim Afinogenov with one second left in the first period. The Sabres allowed four unanswered goals the rest of the way, though, and were outshot 41-24 in the game.
"The second period is kind of where we needed to answer the bell, and if we kept moving like we did in the first I think it might have been a different game," said Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who made 37 saves after missing the previous five games with a muscle strain.
Miller dropped to 9-2-1 with a 2.74 goals-against average in 12 starts this season, but is a perfect 4-0 with a 2.45 GAA lifetime versus the Lightning. He helped the Sabres sweep all four meetings between the teams last season.
Buffalo outscored Tampa Bay 19-10 in those matchups. The Sabres are beginning a three-game homestand, where they have gone 13-3 with a tie in their last 17 meetings versus the Lightning.
Tampa Bay (10-9-1) has also dropped two of its last three games following a three-game winning streak. The Lightning allowed a goal less than two minutes into Sunday's game and never recovered, losing 4-1 to the New York Rangers.
Tampa Bay trailed by four in the final period when Eric Perrin finally got the team on the board with a power-play goal.
"I think we've got to be mentally tough and just forget about this, keep plugging away," Perrin said.
Johan Holmqvist made 30 saves in the defeat, but allowed a season high in goals and dropped to 5-3 with a 2.62 GAA on the year. He has never faced Buffalo.
Marc Denis is 5-6-1 with a 2.98 GAA this season, but has lost four straight starts and hasn't been in goal since Wednesday's defeat to Montreal. He is 1-1 with a 3.53 GAA in two career starts versus the Sabres.
Vincent Lecavalier leads the Lightning with 14 assists and 24 points, but has only five goals and six assists in 25 career games against Buffalo. Martin St. Louis is Tampa Bay's leading scorer with 11 goals this season, but hasn't scored in the last five games. He could get back on track Monday, though, as he has notched a goal in three of his last five games against the Sabres.
The Lightning are playing the middle contest of a three-game road trip. They are 5-3-1 away from home this season.